The Banality of Tony Greenstein By Gerry Downing (Alex Steiner extracts)1
30/09/2019 by socialistfight
PRIOR TO THE COMMUNIST UNIVERSITY, on 29 April 2019, Tony Greenstein, who claims to be a “socialist, anti-Zionist, anti-racist”, paid tribute to “Hannah Arendt – a Jewish Pariah and Daughter of the Diaspora … Arendt was the German-Jewish Refugee whose Universalism Overcame her Zionism” he told us. She was, he assured us, “the greatest Jewish political philosopher of the 20th century”, no less.
His adulation says far more about the politics of Tony Greenstein than he wished. When asked about her lifelong adulation of Martin Heidegger, an avowed Nazi, with whom she had sexual affairs after 1923 and again after 1950, Tony defended Heidegger and went as far as asserting that his philosophy had nothing to do with his politics, and he had done some good things, like not persecuting Jews as vigorously as he could have done under Hitler.
This bifurcation he compared to the impressionist Salvador Dali, who, equally, had fascist sympathies (for Franco and Hitler) but supposedly produced great works of art. And he mentioned others in defence of his theory of Heidegger’s bifurcation, although he did not advance another similar absolute contradiction of philosophy/politics.
Tony sees a few problems. “Hannah Arendt was an enigma. She rejected any materialist or class analysis in favour of a philosophical and metaphysical discourse.” Not a good start for “the greatest Jewish political philosopher of the 20th century”:
“Originally a Zionist, Arendt escaped the shackles and straitjacket of authoritarian nationalism. Zionism demands obedience to the Jewish volk, above all from its intellectuals, which is one reason why it has produced so few … If I’m guilty of anti-semitism for speaking the truth then Hannah Arendt, the greatest Jewish political philosopher of the 20th century, is equally guilty because this is exactly what she said in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil.”
This from one of Heidegger’s better speeches:
“This will … must be our innermost certainty and never-faltering faith. For in what this will wills, we are only following the towering will of our Führer. To be his loyal followers means: to will that the German people shall find again, as a people of labour, its organic unity, its simple dignity, and its true strength; and that, as a state of labour, it shall secure for itself permanence and greatness. To the man of this unprecedented will, to our Führer Adolf Hitler-a three-fold ‘Sieg Heil!”
In April 2000 Alex Steiner posted a three part essay, “The Case of Martin Heidegger, Philosopher and Nazi”. In it he examines the politics of Heidegger and Arendt’s relationship to him. The rest of this piece is extracted from that essay: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/04/heid-a04.html)
It is in Nietzsche that the counter-Enlightenment finds its real voice. And it is to this tradition that we should look in situating the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Heidegger himself in fact recognized Nietzsche quite correctly as a kindred spirit. But whereas Nietzsche saw himself as the prophet announcing the coming of nihilism, Heidegger sees himself as the biographer of a mature nihilism.
As part of their public relations campaign Heidegger and his apologists were particularly keen to enlist the testimony of German Jewish philosophers who had themselves suffered under the Nazis. To this end the well-known philosopher and German émigré Hanna Arendt was solicited to write an essay for an anthology honouring Heidegger on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. Arendt’s essay, “Heidegger at Eighty,” contains the following cryptic allusion to Heidegger’s political activities:
“Now we all know that Heidegger, too, once succumbed to the temptation to change his ‘residence’ and to get involved in the world of human affairs. As to the world, he was served somewhat worse than Plato because the tyrant and his victims were not located beyond the sea, but in his own country … As to Heidegger himself, I believe that the matter stands differently. He was still young enough to learn from the shock of the collision, which after ten short hectic months thirty-seven years ago drove him back to his residence, and to settle in his thinking what he had experienced …”
According to the legal brief presented by Arendt, Heidegger’s unfortunate lapse was due neither to the circumstances in which he lived, nor to his character and certainly has no echo in his ideas. The fact that Heidegger became a Nazi, which she euphemistically describes as, having “succumbed to the temptation to change his ‘residence’ and to get involved in the world of human affairs,” can be ascribed solely to the occupational hazard of being a philosopher. And if other philosophers did not follow in these footsteps, that can be explained by the fact that they did not take thinking as seriously as Heidegger. They were not prepared to “accept this wondering as their abode.”
Arendt’s piece is notable for its sheer effrontery. She manages to make Heidegger into the victim who fell prey to the greatness of his thought … She returns to the theme of Heidegger’s primal innocence and political naiveté, writing that “… the point of the matter is that Heidegger, like so many other German intellectuals, Nazis and anti-Nazis, of his generation never read Mein Kampf.”
Actually, there is good evidence to suppose that Heidegger not only did read Hitler’s opus, Mein Kampf, but approved of it. Tom Rockmore has convincingly argued that in his speech assuming the rectorate of Freiburg, Heidegger’s “multiple allusions to battle are also intended as a clear allusion to Hitler’s notorious view of the struggle for the realization of the destiny of the German people formulated in Mein Kampf.”
At a later point in her note, Arendt seeks to turn the tables on Heidegger’s critics by trotting out the legend, manufactured by Heidegger himself, of his redemptive behaviour following his “error.”
“Heidegger himself corrected his own ‘error’ more quickly and more radically than many of those who later sat in judgment over him—he took considerably greater risks than were usual in German literary and university life during that period.”
Even in 1971, Hannah Arendt certainly knew better, or should have known better, than the tale she relates in this embarrassing apologia. She certainly knew for instance of Heidegger’s 1953 republication of his essay discussing the “inner truth of National Socialism.” She was also aware, through her friendship with Karl Jaspers, of the deplorable behaviour Heidegger exhibited toward Jaspers and his Jewish wife. (Heidegger broke off all personal relations with Jaspers and his wife shortly after he became rector.
It was only after the war that Heidegger tried to repair their personal relationship. Despite an intermittent exchange of letters, the two philosophers could never repair their personal relationship as a result of Heidegger’s refusal to recant his support of Nazism.)
End of extract
We are bound to conclude that Arendt defended Heidegger the Nazi because she remained a Zionist despite criticisms and identified those racist elitist elements in Heidegger’s philosophy that chimed with Zionism itself; the contempt for the Untermensch Jews in Germany 1930 and Palestinians today. Fear of revolution made it imperative for these ultra-reactionary ideologies to reject Marxism.
Lefts need to strengthen their act on the fraud of “left-wing anti-Semitism” and be ready to laugh in the faces of anyone espousing this nonsense. There should be no giving way to this Western hate campaign at all. But, instead,”protest politics” lefts who are ill-educated in Leninism fall for it, as shown by what happened at SOAS yesterday. Last night’s RCG-hosted discussion about the Zionist fraud of “left-wing anti-Semitism” was farcically disrupted by the hosts censoring a speech by an EPSR comrade who was explaining exactly why Jewish lobbying is so fascist and widespread. What dominates the planet is the US Empire’s decay and slump-war crisis, so there is no “world Jewish conspiracy”; but there is a large and wealthy Jewish diaspora that supports pro-“Israel” lobbying, as shown by the Al Jazeera documentary. The insane “left-wing anti-Semitism” mind-bending game assists Western monopoly-capitalism’s vicious “war on terror” hypocrisy and is intended to intimidate anyone who backs the Palestinians’ fightback against the truly racist, Nazi-colonial theft of their homeland. As the RCG usefully pointed out, this sick campaign, backed by Corbyn, is being used to defend Hitler-loving boot boys in Germany, and has now infected the PSC and is being used to scare all left-wingers. But are the RCG really trying to expose the pro-imperialism of the Labour party and destroy its influence or reform it? This is a question that SF should re-ask itself too. More people should read the EPSR’s book against Zionism, which goes into all these questions of Marxist-Leninist attitudes to national liberation, colonial fascism, Jewish “special pleading”, and who has “rights” to Palestine, etc. Most of all, it stands by the Marxist perspective that global finance-capitalism will crash and burn, and it is in that context, with the working masses of the world being unable to bear further exploitation and suffering that, as the world revolution rises, the Palestinian revolution will triumph and they will get ALL their country back.